With the World Cup just days away, we publish these articles on the abuse of football’s most prestigious tournament again. They are particularly timely as Brasil has been polarised by hosting the tournament. Demonstrators will once again take to the streets in major cities throughout the country to demand social changes – ones that should have been delivered after last year’s Confederations Cup.
by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (June 18th 2008)
The Victims of the Fix
While Dutch complaints over the 1978 World Cup have garnered numerous column inches they were not the victims of the notorious fix that occurred in that tournament. They may have experienced unsporting conduct – being kept awake at night, but the victims of the fix was Brasil. If Perú had played to the height of their form and ability – remember they topped a group that included the Netherlands – then Brasil and not Argentina would have reached the final.
Even now 30 years later it defies logic that such a good team could have conceded not only the four that Argentina needed, but an extra two as well. No Brasilian will ever accept that this result was anything but a deliberate fix to cheat them of the ultimate prize – winning the World Cup in Argentina. That would have been the sweetest victory of all five of their World Cups.
It would have benefited Brasil’s dictatorship, which had appointed its man Ernesto Geisel as ʻPresidentʼ in 1975. Geisel represented the militaryʼs party ARENA. Geisel favoured a slow return to democracy. The worst excesses of the previous dictatorship were not repeated, but Geisel was a tyrant too. Nevertheless, despicable as he undoubtedly was, Videla was far, far worse than Geisel. A Brasilian triumph in Buenos Aires could have been the greatest blessing of all for Argentina – the catalyst to oust Videla.
Videla was not about to risk that happening. He entered the Perúvian dressing room at half time in the crucial match. There had been no sign of the capitulation that would follow Videla’s visit in the first half. Some say that Videla or his cronies threatened the Perúvian players with what would happen to them if they refused to throw the match.
Others believe that it was a betting scam and bribery, or benefits for the Perúvian economy were offered that persuaded the players to throw the match, but some point out that no concrete evidence ever emerged. Conspiracy theories flourished, but what really happened?
It is certain that Videla went into the Perúvian dressing room and in the second half the talented Perúvian team collapsed to guarantee that Argentina progressed to the final. Many conspiracy theorists point accusing fingers at goal-keeper Ramón Quiroga, but there was little that he could do about many of the goals that Perú conceded.
Even the fact that he worked as a coach in Argentina years later was used against him, but what did it prove? Quiroga was born in Argentina after all, so why should he not work there, or anywhere else for that matter? The conspiracy theories will continue and something odd certainly happened in the second half, but the full truth of why an impressive Perú team meekly surrendered in the second half may never be established.
If it was by foul means as seems most likely the victims on the pitch was Brasil and sadly there were many more victims off the pitch. The Argentinian nation continued to suffer the horrors of Videla and his thugs in uniform for three more years and the junta survived until the ill-judged Falklands War brought the criminal régime down.
Argentina deserved to host the World Cup – it was their turn, – but Argentinians deserved human rights and justice more. They needed FIFA, football and the world to stand up for them and ostracise the repulsive Videla and his martinets more than they needed to host the World Cup – a tournament that they could have hosted and possibly won when the fascist thugs had been overthrown. Simply put, they deserved far better than football gave them.
History had already shown that despots knew how to take advantage of sport to gain legitimacy at home and abroad – something both FIFA and the International Olympic Committee should have prevented. Hitler had used and abused the Olympic Games in 1936 and Mussolini had shown two years earlier exactly how to manipulate public opinion, sport and officials to bolster a despicable régime.
Mussolini had given a virtuoso exhibition of how to manipulate domestic public opinion and international opinion too by shamelessly rigging the World Cup in 1934. It was a lesson other despots of any political affiliation learned well. Jorge Videla had learned well.
He was far from the first despot to exploit the prestige of hosting and/or winning the World Cup – Mussolini and Brasilian dictator Emilio Garrastazú Médici had paved the way, but Videla remains one of the most bestial and odious tyrants ever to be allowed to exploit the World Cup. Mussolini would have been proud to see his political heirs – despicable people – were also adept at using the world’s most popular sport to serve their own political needs.